Posted on 09 Oct 2015
People at PageUp Blog Series
Lessons from the AWShine hackathon, Melbourne
My name is Ceola (me below in the red jacket), I am a Software Engineer at PageUp. Just a few weeks back I spent an amazing and inspiring weekend at the AWShine hackathon in Melbourne. It was my first external hackathon so I was really nervous Would I find a team that I would fit into? Would I be able to contribute? Would it be really intimidating?
Needless to say, my concerns were very much in vain. From the minute I walked in everyone was so friendly and welcoming. The intimidating, competitive atmosphere that I might have imagined was just that…a figment of my imagination.
After the pitches, the entrepreneurs each took a corner and everyone just walked around, had a chat and joined a team that they were passionate about and thought they could best contribute to. Lines were blurred and hats were swapped, people who signed up as spectators created apps, a group of mentors formed their own team and developers even worked on the business model, statistics and presentation.
I chose to work on the STEM2School team because everyone seemed so passionate about the topic and we all had experience in a similar tech stack so it seemed like a great fit. I was right, I felt lucky to be part of such a talented, enthusiastic team who gelled from the start.
The problem we were trying to solve was the low number of high school students entering STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) careers. The solution: Get them early! Expose them to the exciting side of STEM and introduce them to the warm fuzzies that we get when we create or solve something.
To achieve this, we set out to create an app to connect sponsors with schools to run interactive and innovative STEM events for students. Who wouldn’t be more interested in a STEM career if they got to make an app or a robot in high school? We chose to take an agile approach with cards and regular standups due to the size of the team and so that the individual tasks were more manageable.
We were a team of six, five of which were developers so we had endless possibilities when it came to the tech stack. We decided on an AngularJS front-end kitted out with a nice little bootstrap theme and a .NET backend and SQL Server database. Seeing as I had experience with both AngularJS and .NET I took on the role of Little Miss Integration for a lot of the time, integrating both sides, keeping them in sync and working out the best way to deploy the application as a whole.
As an AWS hack part of the criteria was to leverage as much as we could from the AWS services, so we used all of the things!! Well, as many of the them as we could make practical use of on a two-day project at any rate. The mentors were an amazing help and constantly offered support, frequently checking in to see that everything was running smoothly.
While we were developing we used code commit for source control, an EC2 server instance backed with an RDS SQL Server database instance. For production we moved the domain name over to AWS Route 53 and used Cloudwatch to monitor and attach that to Elastic Beanstalk which brought up dual instances of the environment load balanced with elastic load balancer and also auto scaling across multiple availability zones.
It was very much a success both in terms of what we delivered and for me personally as a hackathon newbie. I know it is cliche but I genuinely think that diversity was the main contributor. Diversity of experience, gender, age, background all contributed to both the collaborative atmosphere of the entire weekend as well as the all important approach to the solution.
With the Value of Hindsight
Here are some things we might choose to do differently next time:
KISS (keep it simple silly)
The age old phrase and yet we still forget to go back to basics. Not that we got it wrong by any means, but we could have kept things a lot leaner and spent more time on the business model, field research and presentation.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Agreeing on your problem statement up front is one of the most important things. It keeps the solution focused.
Eyes on the prize
After the problem statement is agreed and before you get into solution mode, the final presentation needs attention. Deciding what to include in the final presentation is vital when you only have 5 minutes to present and demo. Cut out non value adding items and speak directly to the judging criteria. It is a competition after all!
Would I do it all again? Do you even need to ask?!
This balance between fun and success is something that PageUp prides itself on, and it’s not just directed towards our staff but to our clients as well. Check out some PageUp customer success stories here.